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We talked with Musa Kar­badağ, ex Co-Pres­i­dent of the Sol­i­dar­i­ty and mutu­al aid Asso­ci­a­tion for fam­i­lies of pris­on­ers (TAYD-DER) in Izmir.

As demon­strat­ed in the recent­ly pub­lished annu­al report on vio­la­tions of rights com­mit­ted in Turkey, the year 2020 revolved with still many cas­es brought to the atten­tion of Law establishments.

Since April 2020, thanks to new amend­ments to the law on the man­age­ment of sen­tences, in order to fight against the prop­a­ga­tion of the COVID-19 virus in deten­tion cen­ters, 90 thou­sand detainees were lib­er­at­ed. How­ev­er, were exclud­ed from these amend­ments and lib­er­a­tions, and are still behind bars, those that were judged under the head­ing of “ter­ror­ist”, those who are sick, jour­nal­ists, aca­d­e­mics, intel­lec­tu­als, writ­ers, artists and politi­cians whose activ­i­ties can­not be con­sid­ered from any oth­er view­point than that of free­dom of opin­ion and expres­sion. There are also numer­ous men­tions of grave­ly ill pris­on­ers who, accord­ing to med­ical reports, should be lib­er­at­ed immei­date­ly, yet who are main­tained under incarceration.

Two full months have now evolved in the hunger strikes begun in Turk­ish pris­ons by polit­i­cal detainees, as a protest against the vio­la­tions of rights to which they are sub­ject­ed and against the total iso­la­tion imposed on Abdul­lah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK.

Musa Kar­badağ, is the ex Co-Pres­i­dent of the TAYD-DER asso­ci­a­tion in Izmir who, before being forced to leave Turkey and arriv­ing in Ger­many, had done impor­tant work about vio­la­tions of rights in pris­ons, vio­la­tions occu­py­ing an impor­tant place in the polit­i­cal his­to­ry of Turkey.

We spoke to him about exile, but also about pris­ons and the hunger strikes, still in the news.


Dear Musa, our read­ers will have no trou­ble in guess­ing that, giv­en the con­straints gen­er­at­ed by polit­i­cans in Turkey, you are cur­rent­ly in exile in Europe. Could you share with us, in your own under­stand­ing, why you are in exile today, and how this came to be?

In judi­cial terms, exile is con­sid­ered a kind of penal sanc­tion. Exile forces peo­ple to live out­side their place of res­i­dence. But when we look at it more close­ly, in its essence, EXILE is noth­ing oth­er than the name of a per­se­cu­tion in dis­guise, wrapped up in a legal cov­er, clothed as justice.

In the col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of the soci­ety from which I come, exile, forced dis­place­ment, immi­gra­tion are equiv­a­lents for “state­less­ness” and it gen­er­ates a pro­found and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly destruc­tive narrative.

In Kur­dis­tan, fol­low­ing the repres­sion of the rebel­lions of Shêx Sey­it and Der­sim, the Turk­ish State start­ed pay­ing atten­tion to every­thing con­cern­ing the Kur­dish peo­ple. It for­bade its lan­guage, its cul­ture and went so far as to negate its onto­log­i­cal exis­tence. As if that were not enough, through var­i­ous reset­tle­ment poli­cies, it forced migra­tions to dif­fer­ent regions in Ana­to­lia. Intel­lec­tu­als, light bear­ers, tribe lead­ers, reli­gious eru­dites who owned up to their affil­i­a­tion were sent into exile. Who­ev­er showed him­self or her­self to have a poten­tial as claim­ing the mem­o­ry — his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, lin­guis­tic and even exis­ten­tial – of the Kurds, met with the cold face of this polit­i­cal exile. These names that we know from ancient or more recent His­to­ry are the links of this his­tor­i­cal chain of exile: Ihsan Nuri Pasha,1Osman Sabri,2Bedirx­an Beg3, Mehmet Uzun, con­tem­po­rary Kur­dish writer and nov­el­ist, Mah­mut Bak­si, Kur­dish author and jour­nal­ist who died in Stock­holm in 2000, the film direc­tor Yıl­maz Güney, who died in Paris in 1984, and the singer Ahmet Kaya who also died in Paris in 2000…

I also grew up with these tales of exile. Part of my fam­i­ly, notably my uncles, were exiled to Qamis­lo in Syr­ia, fol­low­ing the exe­cu­tion of Mol­la Selim, the ini­tia­tor of the Mut­ki and Cheik Şah­bet­tin revolt that took place from May 26 to August 1927, on account of the impo­si­tion by the State of tax­es and com­pul­so­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice. My father’s tales of “Ser­hat-Bin­hat“4; his sto­ries of vis­its from one shore to anoth­er, still occu­py the sad­dest cor­ner in my con­scious­ness. With time, through every­thing that my old father had told me and shared about our fam­i­ly, our tribe, I became aware that what we all had in com­mon was the his­to­ry of Kur­dis­tan, slashed into four pieces.

Musa Karbadağ

TAYD-DER Izmir, action in front of Man­isa prison in 2015.

As I grew old­er, this aware­ness trans­formed into a polit­i­cal con­science. Thus, in 1993, I was put on tri­al by the State Secu­ri­ty Court of the time, and impris­oned for close to 10 years. Fol­low­ing my lib­er­a­tion in 2005, as I knew about the prej­u­dices expe­ri­enced inside pris­ons, I worked in civil­ian orga­ni­za­tions active in this field. I was Co-Pres­i­dent of the Sol­i­dar­i­ty and Mutu­al Aid asso­ci­a­tion of fam­i­lies of pris­on­ers (TAYD-DER) in Izmir. The asso­ci­a­tion was shut down by decree a few months after the attempt­ed coup of July 15 2016. The State thus crim­i­nal­ized our insti­tu­tion­al activ­i­ties, arrest­ed me and sent me back to prison. What ter­ri­fied them real­ly, was an exter­nal sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment for prisoners.

After sev­en months in pro­vi­sion­al deten­tion, I was released for judge­ment under cus­tody, with the pro­hi­bi­tion of leav­ing the coun­try. When I came out of prison, every­one – from jour­nal­ists to union lead­ers, from stu­dents to aca­d­e­mics, deputies, may­ors – all of them had start­ed leav­ing the ter­ri­to­ry as if they were flee­ing Nazi Ger­many. The pros­e­cu­tion called for prison sen­tences of sev­er­al dozens of years against me, includ­ing for “belong­ing to an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion”, so I saw myself forced to leave my coun­try also.

Dur­ing the peri­od when I planned and ripened this flight project, I used var­i­ous mate­r­i­al and spir­i­tu­al sub­terfuge. In my attempt at flee­ing, I almost drowned in the Aegean Sea. I only suc­ceed­ed on set­ting foot on the Greek island of Chios after my third attempt abord a four-meter long rub­ber boat.

Musa Karbadağ

Octo­ber 2015 Izmir. TAYD-DER press con­fer­ence regard­ing the death of Ali Alp, a sick pris­on­er incar­cer­at­ed in Şakran prison.

On the road to exile, what wore me out the most were the process­es regard­ing migrants. I ful­ly lived through the ambi­gu­i­ty main­tained by Euro­pean coun­tries and vol­un­teer inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions inter­est­ed in migra­tion, on notions such as “migrant”, “asy­lum seek­er”, the uncer­tain­ties, the inco­her­ences that com­pli­cate, delay, ren­der inex­tri­ca­ble and exhaust­ing the migra­to­ry process for every seek­er, includ­ing myself.

The time spent in camps is ful­ly a prob­lem in itself, one that goes against human rights and the rights of migrants.

The ambi­gu­i­ty is main­tained in the def­i­n­i­tion fo the word “refugee” and of the sta­tus of “asy­lum seek­er”, gen­er­at­ing con­fu­sion around notions and the fact that the sys­tem does not func­tion correctly.

The author­i­ties have thus become inca­pable of cre­at­ing and of man­ag­ing the process of “migra­tion and adap­ta­tion” AND of think­ing in terms of “inte­gra­tion”. A pol­i­cy that ONLY takes into account the road to a durable “inte­gra­tion” is not prac­ti­ca­ble. If pre­ven­tion and accom­pa­ny­ing mea­sures fo migra­tion are not put in place, the sys­tem will remain par­a­lyzed for years to come.

More­over, the cur­rent prac­tice here con­sists in acknowl­edg­ing an indi­vid­ual sole­ly as a future use­ful pro­duc­er, dis­tanc­ing him for the eht­nic and polit­i­cal belong­ing from which he comes; and I’m not speak­ing here of coun­tries like Turkey who give prece­dence to this igno­rance, this anni­hi­la­tion. I don’t wish to cat­e­go­rize but, the cur­rent pol­i­cy of wel­come will be vain as long as it will assim­i­late eco­nom­ic refugees migrat­ing toward Europe with polit­i­cal refugees, or vice-ver­sa. For exam­ple, my Euro­peanism was linked to where I lived. I had no eco­nom­ic prob­lems. My rea­son for com­ing here, to Ger­many, was the fact that my eht­nic­i­ty and polit­i­cal opin­ions had become a threat to my sur­vival. My polit­i­cal mem­ber­ship and my world view were the sole rea­sons for my escape. But here also, the ter­rain nar­rows at times, the coun­try in which we find our­selves no longer is much dif­fer­ent from the coun­try we came from. The best exam­ple of this is the expul­sion of Kur­dish mil­i­tants in sev­er­al coun­tries in which they arrive. There comes a time when being involved in free­dom of thought and of con­science comes up against a wall of racism and of xenophobia.

Not a sin­gle polit­i­cal migrant, not a sin­gle polit­i­cal exile would con­sid­er him­self or her­self as a per­ma­nent res­i­dent here, even if the streets of Europe were paved in gold. This is what I know and what I say, being a per­son who sees grow­ing with­in him, with every pass­ing day, the hope of a return.

As a polit­i­cal pris­on­er, you have worked both inside and out­side prison, fol­low­ing your lib­er­a­tion, on the “vio­la­tions of rights in pris­ons”. What are your observations?

Pris­ons in Turkey now resem­ble Nazi camps. Nowa­days, espe­cial­ly in Kur­dish towns, pris­ons in Turkey are under the rule of the State of Excep­tion (OHAL). In the past, prison con­di­tions were already very strict. There were peri­ods with severe vio­la­tions of rights. But fol­low­ing the July 15 coup d’é­tat, con­di­tions in pris­ons have become tru­ly dra­mat­ic on the human lev­el. From the sim­ple pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem to carcer­al estab­lish­ments, from strip search­es to trans­fers, the depor­ta­tion pol­i­cy, the vio­la­tion of the right of access to books, mag­a­zines, and the restric­tions on vis­it­ing rights, let­ters, com­mu­ni­ca­tions… These prac­tices tram­ple indi­vid­ual rights and the iden­ti­ty of detainees, sim­i­lar to the sys­tem­at­ic use of tor­ture. And despite the calls from human rights orga­ni­za­tion, the AKP-MHP ignores them and does not car­ry out improve­ments. Quite the oppo­site with the recent amend­ments lib­er­at­ing all crim­i­nals and gang mem­bers, while main­tain­ing the incar­cer­a­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary oppo­nents, they have not brought any legal change. Yet, accord­ing to nation­al and inter­na­tion­al law, any dis­crim­i­na­tion based on reli­gion, lan­guage, iden­ti­ty, is a crime. The State com­mits crimes with this iniq­ui­tous ruling.

Par­al­lel to the vio­la­tions of rights such as iso­la­tion and strip search­es, pris­ons are now threat­ened by the pan­dem­ic of Covid-19 and sim­i­lar ill­ness­es. The num­ber of sick pris­on­ers increas­es dai­ly. Where­as med­ical doc­tors attest their lib­er­a­tion is indis­pend­able, because of dec­la­ra­tions from local author­i­ties treat­ing them like a “threat to secu­ri­ty”, sick and age­ing pris­on­ers are aban­doned to their fate, in the arms of death.

What is your eval­u­a­tion on carcer­al resis­tance which occu­pies an impor­tant place in the polit­i­cal his­to­ry of Turkey, past and present, and the hunger strikes in pris­ons that have been going on for over two months?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some coun­tries such as Turkey do not act in a spir­it of lib­er­ty, do not go with the times, and as always, the peo­ple pay the price. Very recent­ly, a jurist, mil­i­tant for human rights who had been detained in a Turk­ish prison, died from the sequels of a hunger strike she had start­ed to demand jus­tice and a fair tri­al. The fact a lawyer lost her life by starv­ing her­self in order to call for a fair tri­al, is a dis­as­ter for the Rule of Law.

In mat­ters rel­a­tive to Law, the Turk­ish State has a lot of bad marks in its report card. The hunger strikes by rev­o­lu­tion­ary Kur­dish oppo­si­tion pris­on­ers in pris­ons, ongo­ing for over two months, are also, in their essence, a call for jus­tice and Right. It is an objec­tion to the absence of will on the part of the State and pow­er, in resolv­ing the Kur­dish prob­lem. At the same time, it is an action meant to draw atten­tion of the social oppo­nents, of inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion, on the iso­la­tion imposed and ren­dered per­ma­nent on M. Öcalan in the prison of İmralı.

If the State of Turkey is deter­mined to live peace­ful­ly and in broth­er­hood with the Kur­dish peo­ple, it should urgent­ly and with­out await­ing any­one’s approval, put an end to M. Öcalan’s iso­la­tion and set him free. Should the oppo­site be true, there can occur fur­ther loss­es of human lives in pris­ons at any moment, as was the case in ear­li­er hunger strikes. If the gov­ern­ment is sin­cere in its dis­course on con­sti­tu­tion­al reform, the only address where this sin­cer­i­ty can be test­ed is in İmr­alı prison. It is the lift­ing of the iso­la­tion at İmr­alı and the re-intro­duc­tion of a peace process and nego­ti­a­tion with M. Öcalan as rep­re­sen­ta­tive. This is also the stand­ing demand of the Kur­dish peo­ple, of the defendors of col­lec­tive rights and of the ones resist­ing through their hunger strike. This is how it should be understood.

What would you like to say about the judi­cial pro­ce­dures opened against politi­cians of the Peo­ple’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP) arrest­ed and empris­oned in the frame­work of oper­a­tions that demon­strate a true attempt at a “polit­i­cal genocide”?

If truth be told, the Turk­ish State and the AKP-MHP in pow­er have lost their demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy to gov­ern and attempt to kick the ass of those fight­ing against them and against the solip­sis­tic men­tal­i­ty (Turci­ty).

Who is fight­ing the hard­est against this sys­tem? The Kurds, of course. Con­se­quent­ly, the State and the gov­ern­ment can­not tol­er­ate the exis­tence of the Kurd, even in its most legit­i­mate demo­c­ra­t­ic judi­cial foun­da­tion. With the dis­course of hatred they have devel­oped, they dis­crim­i­nate against the Kurd, they crim­i­nal­ize him with var­i­ous excus­es and throw him into prison. In doing so, they always shel­ter behind the rhetoric of the “Father­land”, the “Nation” and the “Peren­ni­ty of the State”. Because, since they can’t pro­duce any­thing new and democ­ra­tize the sys­tem, they need to take refuge behind archa­ic argu­ments from past his­tor­i­cal luggage.

Since its foun­da­tion, the HDP has held a crit­i­cal and ques­tion­ing posi­tion, as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of every seg­ment dis­crim­i­nat­ed against. From the nom­i­na­tion of munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tors replac­ing may­ors elect­ed through pop­u­lar vote, to the arrest of the Par­ty’s Co-Pres­i­dents and of deputies rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple’s will; until its dis­so­lu­tion will be announced in the news, every­thing is the result of the solip­sis­tic and nega­tion­ist pol­i­cy. It is an eclipse of rea­son: this pol­i­cy can­not endure. Because it iso­lates Turkey from the world, both eco­nom­i­cal­ly and diplo­mat­i­cal­ly. The most durable and ratio­nal strat­e­gy is to go toward a plu­ral­is­tic, demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful con­sti­tu­tion­al renew­al, and to lib­er­ate the peo­ple’s legit­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tives, held as polit­i­cal hostages.

What are you doing these days? What is your life like, as an exile?

The con­di­tion of exile, migra­tion, is a huge exis­ten­tial void. So as not to drown in the blind well of this sav­age noth­ing­ness, I gath­er sen­tences togeth­er. As long as my health allows, I try to trans­mit these accu­mu­lat­ed sen­tences in writing.

I pub­lished a col­lec­tion of poems titled Pepûk 5, the first edi­tion of which is sold out. I have writ­ten a series of three short sto­ries that com­plete one anoth­er, the­mat­i­cal­ly speak­ing: “Su Karadan Güven­li Anne” (Water is safer than earth, mam­ma). I attempt­ed to express my sit­u­a­tion as a state­less migrant, as well as my lan­guage and my con­science would allow. The book I’m cur­rent­ly writ­ing will soon find its readers.

Thank you very much, Musa.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Dilek Aykan
Gazete­ci, siyasetçi, insan hak­ları savunucusu. Jour­nal­iste, femme poli­tique, défenseure des droits humain. Jour­nal­ist, polit­i­cal woman, defendor of human rights.